Monday, July 12, 2010

Box mixes: The enemy of frugal cooks every where

I remember the first time I ever cooked.


My mother had made her famous meltaway meat. Of this, I still quiver in fear. The lumpy, tasteless mass of protein quivered like jello, the texture resembled canned dog food. I'm not entirely sure what she did to it that made it taste so...tasteless, but I do know it often involved me scrubbing out the crockpot for sometimes days on end, only to have her repeat the mess the moment I had managed to chip the remains from the walls of her ceramic petri dish, I mean, crockpot. Ugh.

My moment...she had come down with a "migraine" and needed to lay down. She needed me to "finish off dinner."

I was happier than a pig in, well, you know.

Laying on the counter, a packet of lipton alfredo noodles.

I put on my serious face. This was the big leagues. The moment that everyone tasted MY noodles. Oh, I could hardly wait.

I read the directions, then reread them. I followed them EXACTLY. Measuring the margarine, milk, and water as though my life depended on it.

Did you see my mistake? Because to this day, I don't. I followed the directions on the package, only to have my mother have a panic attack because I used margarine. Evidently, it was optional, (in those days, that was NOT printed on the directions.) and EXPENSIVE

As a (much) older cook, I wonder why we even had those packets. Even on sale they are ridiculously priced for what they are. A little bullion, a couple of seasonings, a four hundred percent mark up. It's scary what people will pay good money for.

On one of my favorite sites there is a certain amount of devotion to a certain meal product hawked by a four fingered hand. There are whole threads devoted to a favorite flavor...and again, I wonder why. Especially when I see "Italian Shells" ranks around the most popular flavors.


Ok, besides the ick factor, (have you READ the ingredients) and the price factor, (upwards of two dollars for barely three portions), Italian Shells? The easiest thing on the the planet, and, possibly the cheapest.

Check out my remake:

1 lb ground beef or sausage
1/2 lb whole wheat short pasta
2 C premade pasta sauce, or season a 16 oz can of tomato puree to taste.
2 C water

Brown beef or sausage and drain. Add sauce and water, bring to a boil, add the pasta. Return to a boil, simmering for 7 minutes. Do not cover. Let stand five minutes.

At this point, I usually sprinkle some shredded cheese on it and call it a day. However, I have the feeling the cheese sauce makes it for some people, so...

take 1/2 C milk and blend with 1 tsp cornstarch until smooth. Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic, bring to a boil. Stir in two to four tablespoons of parmesan cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Drizzle over pasta.

Serve as you would your favorite box mix. Gloat in the fact that it cost less than half the price. Yay, YOU!

Do you have a favorite box mix you'd like a cheaper alternative to? Let me know in the comments!

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